Friday, May 20, 2011

Have Running Shoes, Will Travel

My passport will expire in three years and I still have several blank pages left.  This is a tragedy.  In fact, it's been a couple years since my last international trip, but happily the drought has come to an end.  Today I leave for a two-week trip to South Africa where I'll get to engage in my two favorite pastimes: running and travel.

More specifically, I'm heading to South Africa to take part in Comrades, the world's largest and oldest ultramarathon.  This year 19,000 runners will make the 56-mile (89km) journey on the road from Durban to Pietermaritzburg on May 29th.  This is a Bucket List race.  I'm told you're not considered a real runner in South Africa unless you have completed Comrades at least once.  Many do it over and over again - if you finish the race ten times they assign you a special green bib number, which is permanently yours forever after.

Not being South African, and never having taken part in Comrades before, I don't yet fully grasp the cultural significance of the race.  It's sort of their equivalent to the Boston Marathon, but plays a greater role in the national consciousness.

Comrades was first run in 1921 and was started as a way to commemorate the heroic soldiers who had fought in World War I.  The race is run point-to-point, and every year they switch direction.  Because one end is at sea level and the other end is at a significantly higher elevation inland, each year the race is commonly referred to as an "Up Run" or a "Down Run" (the down run presumably being faster but also more difficult on your quads if you haven't practiced a lot of downhill running.)  This year is an Up Year.

But the race is just a small part of my trip.  I've got a full itinerary for my two weeks and will be trying to pack as much as possible.  Between flying into and out of Johannesburg, the main highlights of my trip will be:
  1. Visiting Cape Town.  I've heard great things about this world-class city, and am excited to spend a few days there
  2. The Comrades Marathon
  3. Visiting my uncle and aunt in Botswana. (also gets me an additional stamp in my passport!)
  4. Gareth's bachelor party in Jo'burg.  Surviving the bachelor party weekend might be tougher than running Comrades.

A whirlwind trip for sure, but I'm looking forward to it.  No trip ever goes completely as planned, but that's part of the adventure.  Time to settle in for a long flight now, more soon...

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